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Meet the Wildlife

Our broadcast turns a spotlight on two birds, the sage-grouse and the prairie chicken. Both birds belong to the order Galliformes, which includes chickens, turkeys, grouse, pheasants, and other fowl. Often called "game birds," many galliformes are hunted for their flavorful meat. These birds have short wings and fly close to the ground. They have a small head and stocky body. While the sage-grouse and prairie chicken live in different habitats, they are somewhat similar in appearance and behavior.


The sage-grouse is a striking upland bird that has inhabited the sagebrush ecosystems of the Western plains for thousands of years. A longtime subject of Native American songs and myths, sage-grouse were described by Lewis and Clark two hundred years ago as "cock of the plains," and given the scientific name Centrocerus urophasianus ("spiny-tailed pheasant"). They also have commonly been called sage fowl, spine-tailed grouse, fool hen, and sage chicken.

Adult males can reach lengths of up to 30 inches and weigh up to seven pounds. Every year in the spring male birds congregate in large numbers on special grounds called "leks," fanning their tail feathers, making a distinctive "popping" noise, and swelling their bright yellow air sacs in hopes of attracting the smaller, and more reserved, female. This showy display not only attracts female birds, but it also attracts people who like to come and watch.

The largest of the native grouse, sage-grouse are ground-nesting birds that depend on sagebrush ecosystems with an understory herb layer of grasses and forbs to hatch and raise their young. The sagebrush itself provides cover protection from predators and a winter food source. The forbs and grasses help conceal the nests and provide food either directly or by attracting insects that can be eaten. Insects are a major part of the diet of sage-grouse chicks, who need the high protein for fast growth. Sage-grouse do not migrate, but may move up to 50 miles between activity habitats throughout the year.

Sage-grouse populations have declined dramatically over the past 100 years, primarily due to a decline in suitable sagebrush habitat. While federal agencies are working to restore sagebrush habitat in many areas in hopes of reversing this population decline, state wildlife agencies are working with private landowners to do the same thing. Most of the remaining sage-grouse habitat is on federally managed and privately-owned lands. BLM manages just over half (51%) of this remaining habitat.

There are two species of sage-grouse: the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), which inhabits parts of 11 western states, and the less widely distributed Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) which lives only in southern Colorado and Utah. The Gunnison sage-grouse has lost 90 % of its habitat, and now occupies only 10% of its original range.


Weight: 4 - 7 pounds, the female is smaller than the male
Life Span: Up to five years
Range: Parts of 11 Western States
Home Range: Up to 500 square miles
Diet: sagebrush in winter; grasses, forbs, and insects when available
Reproduction: Clutch size 6 - 9; nests in spring
Habitat Requirements: Large areas of sagebrush with understory vegetation of forbs and grasses.



Lesser Prairie Chicken

The lesser prairie chicken is related to the sage-grouse and shares some of its behavioral traits such as annual gatherings at leks for a unique courtship display. The lesser prairie chicken occupies a very different habitat and has a much smaller range, however. It lives in the dry short-grass prairies of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico.

Lesser prairie chickens prefer a diversity of grasses and forbs interspersed with low shrubs to provide protective cover. Habitat is often associated with shinnery oak, a small tree that grows densely in sandy soils. The birds' diet includes insects, seeds, leaves, and buds. It does not migrate, so its winter and summer range are similar.
It is estimated that the occupied range of the lesser prairie chicken has been reduced by more than 90 percent compared to pre-settlement conditions. With the loss of habitat, populations have declined significantly. Most of the remaining habitat of the lesser prairie chicken is on private lands.

The lesser prairie chicken is one of two species of prairie chickens. The greater prairie chicken occupies a larger range. However, the Attwater's prairie chicken, a subspecies of the greater prairie chicken, is on the federal endangered species list.


Weight: About 1.5 pounds
Lesser prairie chickenLife Span : 2 – 5 years
Range: Extends from western Kansas and southeastern Colorado south to the Texas panhandle and eastern New Mexico.
Home Range: can be as large as 1,267 acres (506.8 ha) for males and 577 acres (230.8 ha) for females
Diet: Mostly plants, some insects
Reproduction: Clutch size is 8 - 14; nests in spring
Habitat Requirements: Short to mid-grass prairie


Last updated: 10-23-2009